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To transform is a must

Products recovered from garbage generate technology, jobs and social benefits

The recycling of industrial products is has the approval of all sectors of society. There is nobody who disagrees with the necessity for recycling beer cans, plastic bottles, tires, office paper and glass jars. They are products that give rise to the notion of wastage when you throw something still usable into the rubbish bin and reinforce the environmental conscience of reducing the extraction of products from nature, such as wood, minerals and petroleum.

In spite of the general desire of its citizens, recycling in Brazil and in a large part of the world is still taking its first steps. A situation that mainly has its roots at the lack of the selective collection of garbage in cities. In this system, the possible items to be recycled are separated from the doorstep of the consumer to industrial recycling. In Brazil, only 135 municipalities of the existing 5,000, have adopted this system. Another limiting factor forrecycling is the lack of technology to carry out the transformation of lots of products. On this point, academic research has much to offer and can bring important innovations such as those we will read about on the following pages.

Products such as aluminum cans and glass objects already have adequate methods of recycling, which generate residues capable of going back as raw material into the production line with the same initial objective. Others, however, such as batteries and car tires are still in the stage of studies in order to obtain more efficient recycling technologies. To this end, many researchers are looking into a wide range of possibilities, from the discoveries of new techniques to the spreading of already existing information.

A field lesson
Some professors have left their rooms and laboratories in the universities and have taken to the field to teach the trade of the recycler. This is the case of professor Hélio Wiebeck, of the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP). He is coordinating a project which intends to enable the garbage collectors of Alvarenga, in the town of São Bernardo do Campo, to participate in the Program for the Selective Collection of Garbage run by the City Hall. “This projectis one of the greatest challenges of my life, since, besides involving a technical knowledge of the question, we have to be involved with very suffering people.” he reveals. The project is part of the Research Program into Public Policies, promoted by FAPESP, which began in January of this year.

“We carried out an analysis for the market of the recycled material in the region and we moved towards the best manner of processing (baling, grinding etc.) for the products removed from the trash. The collection is done by City Hall through voluntary drop points, where the population dump their recyclable material.” explains professor Wiebeck. In this way, the collectors don’t have to look for the products in the normal garbage. As well as the town’s administration, the project also has the participation of the Polytechnic School, the Brazilian Service for the Support for the Micro and Small Company (Sebrae), the Poli’s Institute, a participant of the National Forum of Garbage and Citizenship, Plastivida – an organization linked to the Brazilian Association of the Chemical Industry (Abiquim) -, and the program Dial – Technology of  USP.

Opportune and desirable
Professor Wiebeck is also responsible for the recycling course offered by the Executive Coordination of University Cooperation and of Special Activities (Cecae) linked to USP. Created in 1994, the course has already assisted more than one thousand people. “The interested public is composed of professionals from several fields.” he explains. Among them, there are business people, factory workers, students, researchers, community leaders, doctors and engineers. The main emphasis of the program is on the recycling of plastic. “It is the sector that offers the best opportunities for small and medium business people.” he completes.

The course and the São Bernardo project are examples of activities that have been expanding throughout the country, though at a slower pace if compared to the social and economic possibilities of the sector of recycling. Opportunities that, by one of those paradoxes of life, are in the trash bin.

Mining on the streets of São Paulo
The São Paulo citizen Otávio Lemos, 45 years old, from the district of São Miguel Paulista, in the east side of São Paulo, lost his job in a Steak House four years ago, where he used to work as an assistant. After this, he couldn’t get back into the formal employment market. For him, his age was the main obstacle. After lots of searching, he discovered with a friend a new way of earning money, collecting aluminum cans on the streets. “It was my salvation.” he tells. At the present moment, Lemos is managing to collect 32 kilos per week. “In the weekends alone, I manage to gather 22 kilos.” He earns R$ 250.00 in a good month. For this he spends his early mornings between the districts of the Jardins and that of Vila Madalena collecting his sustenance.

This story has become common in various cities of Brazil and reflects, besides the problem of unemployment, also the discovery of the universe of recycling of aluminum as a source of survival for a large number of Brazilians. According to estimates of the Brazilian Association of aluminum (Abal), around 150,000 people live from the collection and recycling of aluminum, receiving from two to four minimum salaries per month. In the year 2000 Brazil recycled 78% of all of the drinks cans consumed during the year. In total, 102 tones returned to the process of production, showing a growth of 19% over the total for 1999.

The project
The Implanting of Recycling Units of Raw Materials (nº 00/02008-9); Modality Research Program into Public Policies; Coordinator Professor Hélio Wiebeck – Poli-USP; Investment R$ 30,000.00 from FAPESP and R$ 15,000.00 from São Bernardo City Hall